Day 106: zero edition 

**In an effort to get the remainder of the Maine posts published, I’m going to gloss over the zero day I took in Rangeley**

As previously mentioned, I got in bed on the late side. Not long after I plugged in my phone and settled in to the sound of snoring, I heard footsteps coming up the stairwell. I assumed it was a hiker heading to the one bathroom in the building, but as the footsteps got closer, I heard a sloppy male voice muttering about which bed might be his. Then I felt a searching hand pat my feet. I said, “dude” with a clear “get the F off of me” tone of voice, and the slurring human apologized profusely and muttered something about going to sleep somewhere else. I felt confused and aggravated, but satisfied that the roaming hiker wouldn’t return. The voice sounded like it belonged to the odd gentleman I’d met the day before who I felt deserved a wide berth.

It became clear during breakfast that the events of the night had caused quite a stir in the bunkhouse. Somehow the story got back to the owners of the farmhouse, who were not happy in the least. I passed it off as the mistake of a drunk hiker who relented with little urging from me. When he saw me in the morning, he apologized to the point of awkwardness. As I rummaged about in the packroom a little while later, I overheard one of the managers discussing his strategy to ask the hiker to move on (a sugarcoated way of saying he planned to kick him out of the inn). One of the front desk staff came through the bunkhouse taking roll and checking the number of people booked for the hostel against the number of available beds. As it turns out, the inn had overbooked the building and the bed had indeed belonged to the muttering hiker, hence the missing towel upon my arrival. I hadn’t seen any other belongings, so both the staff member and I had assumed the towel indicated a stocking oversight. The inn apologized to the hiker and assigned him to a proper bed for the next night so that he could take his planned zero day. The true source of the mistake did not prevent the hiker from continuing to apologize to me every time we crossed paths throughout the day. So awkward.

The remainder of the day passed unremarkably. I managed to get some blogging done. I worked out a plan for Cotton to join me for a long weekend beginning Friday morning with the Bigelows and ending Monday with the Kennebec ferry crossing into Caratunk. I’m excited to have her company again.

I went into town in the middle of the day because the weather was far better than anticipated, which made me cranky at having lost another day of decent hiking even though I had far more internet/phone work than I could get through in one day. I ran into tater and norseman at the diner style bagel shop in town. They had spent a good chunk of the morning working on the house puzzle, which they finished save the missing piece.

We parted ways after their success, and I bought a few postcards from a clothing store down the street. Then I sat by the waterfront writing letters and eating doritos while being stalked by a belligerent seagull. I dropped the postcards in the box outside the post office, and made my way to the ice cream shop that serves as a pickup location for the hostel. Predictably, I couldn’t resist getting some ice cream while I waited, which of course made me feel happy and moderately sick to my stomach.

I spent the rest of the afternoon editing posts, organizing my food, and making phone calls to work out logistics for the hundred mile wilderness. I managed to plan out the rest of Maine, estimating a katahdin summit on August 24th. I happened to look up during my planning fugue to notice the sky changing colors. I quickly put on my shoes and ran up the side of the road to the scenic overlook about a half mile away from the inn. The change in pace made my lungs burn as I jogged up the hill. I got there just as the sun dropped below the ridge line of the mountains west of Rangeley Lake (top picture for today). I stuck around for a few minutes ogling a high strung but friendly pitbull and then headed back to the hostel to finish prepping for tomorrow. I spent the late hours of the evening on the phone while the rest of the hikers goofed off around the fire pit. Tomorrow’s adventure: the Saddleback range.

Total miles: 0

Creature feature: that cute dog at the overlook and the sound of loons on the lake.

Day 107: saddleback edition

My watch alarm went off at 5am. It felt like I’d only been asleep for like two hours, but I wanted to catch the 630 shuttle, so I had to get up. I heard the trill of loons as I lay in the dark trying to find the will to get out of bed. I went downstairs and ate yogurt with banana and the cinnamon raisin bagel that I bought yesterday in town, which I toasted it and put butter on one half and peanut butter on the other half. I can never seem to eat a bagel just one way. An older gentleman named Super Mario skulked about while bangles and I ate breakfast at the table. Super Mario has a bushy gray handlebar mustache and wears thick red suspenders that are likely the source of his trailname, but I didn’t actually ask the question.

After eating, I went back upstairs to collect the odds and ends that I’d removed from my pack. It’s disconcerting to be so far from my bag; I feel like I’m going to forget things. I put my phone on to charge and took my stuff to the packroom to get ready. When I stepped outside, I was met with air far cooler than I’d expected. I’m worried I don’t have enough warm clothing, but I’m going to see if I can continue to manage without another mid layer. I sadly stuffed my puffy into the compactor bag with the other things I need to keep dry. Then I put in my very full food bag over top of which I put my tent. My center of gravity feels better when my food goes towards the middle of the bag. It was 6:15 by the time everything was in place, dashing my hopes of getting one more blog post prepped and published. I started loading pictures and editing anyway because I have to figure out a way to chip away at the backlog. It helps when I dictate throughout the day and when I write in complete sentences at night, but both of those practices are difficult to execute when the hiking has been as challenging as it has of late.

No one was ready for the shuttle on time. Everyone rushed and threw things in their bags willy nilly or they were rushing for last minute bathroom trips. We didn’t leave until 645. I crawled into the way back seat, which was a mistake because it made me car sick. As we piled into the car, I asked the shuttle driver, whose name I regretfully didn’t get, if he could drop me off at the hiker hut .3 miles from the trail on his way back to the farmhouse. He agreed. I hopefully have a postcard waiting for me from someone who mailed it before I changed my plans to stay at the farmhouse instead. The hiker hut is an off the grid hostel right off the trail at which I had been excited to stay, but I needed power for electronics. When we got to the trailhead, all the other hikers piled out of the car, and I switched into the front seat for my two minute detour.

The grounds of the hiker hut are incredible. Clusters of gardens surround a small wooden structure. There seem to be other small cabins scattered about (think tiny home size). The shuttle driver offered to stick around to take me back to the trail, which I gratefully accepted. The caretaker came over at the sound of the truck. Her face brightened when I said I might have a postcard waiting for me. She walked to the main building and sifted through a small batch of mail, pulling out my postcard with a smile. I thanked her and hurried back to the truck wishing I could wander around taking pictures but knowing that cutting the road walk out of my day was probably more important.

When we got back to the trailhead, Tater and Norseman were still in the parking lot. Tater had been one of the people shoving stuff in her bag to leave on time, so she was reorganizing before starting out. I gave them a quick hi/bye and crossed the road to head north. The trail was easy going for quite awhile with periodic sections of difficult roots.

My pack felt incredibly heavy today and my legs did not have much in the way of gas. My feet also felt hot and my socks seemed to be rubbing. I decided to stop and put body glide on my feet, which I had been too lazy to do at the hostel. That seemed to help the friction issue without having to resort to KT tape, which I haven’t used in weeks.

The trail went from traditional footing to scaling rock faces nearly 2 miles south of saddleback’s summit. I couldn’t fathom having to walk straight up for two miles with my energy levels so low, but I didn’t really have a choice, so I kept putting one foot in front of the other. As the trail skirted the edge of another pond, I heard the loud laughter and frivolity of a teen group.

I hoped they were headed southbound. Sadly, they weren’t. I came up behind the rowdy bunch, which turned out to be about 8 teenage girls. Their trailing leader heard me approach and announced “hiker behind,” which made everyone pull over to the side to let me pass. I was grateful that I didn’t have to figure out how to go around them because they were going pretty slowly up the hill, but I felt so self conscious about having to walk past them having no clue how badly I might smell. I’d passed a few southbound hikers already this morning and they were…ripe. I craned my ears for any under the breath remarks about how gross I was as I powered up the hill to put some distance between us. No tittering that I could gather, but who knows.

The trail steepened to the point of rebar in a few places. About halfway to the treeline, I took a snack break to rest my legs and hopefully put some energy into my body.

Food seemed to help a bit, but my ability to scamper up the rock faces was severely hindered by tired legs and a heavy bag. My momentum kept stalling out, and I nearly fell backwards a few times.

When I finally reached treeline, the boulders became broader and steeper. The wind chilled me to the point of having to put on my wool layer nearly immediately after leaving the woods. As I climbed, I took in the sweeping views around me and thanked the skies for being dry and relatively clear.

I turned my hat backwards to keep it from flying over the mountainside and trudged over the rock slabs, stopping frequently to take pictures.

The walk to the summit felt endless. The cairns snaked their way up the mountain with no sign of the top. I tried to focus on breathing and taking in the plants and the views, but I also felt impatient to be done climbing in the wind.

When I finally reached the summit, I stopped just long enough to eat a snack because it was too cold to sit exposed to the wind. There was a rocky windbreak similar to those on moosilauke, but a group of teenagers occupied it with no signs of imminent departure. A day hiker from the southern tip of Maine tried to talk to me, but it felt like I had to yell over the wind, which is not a conversation for which I have stamina. As I put on another layer in preparation to leave, Tater and Norseman approached the summit. I asked Norseman if I could take his picture because his beard looked so at home on top of a rugged mountain. He happily consented and then posed with his flag for good measure. Not sure what the story is, but I will let you know if I find out.

I said goodbye to them and kept moving. I was too cold to stand around any longer, and I honestly can’t tell if they enjoy my company. Better to keep interactions to small doses until I can figure out how to be more comfortable around them. Saddleback is followed by another 4K peak named the Horn. Here’s one of the views between the peaks and a video of the surrounding mountains.

The terrain involved more bouldering, some unexpected rock hopping through muddy flats, and more Achilles’ tendon aggravating slab walking. I made it to the horn’s summit around 1145. Prime lunch time, but it was out of the question to eat on the summit because of the wind. Instead, I walked about a third of a mile down the mountain and sat in the sun on a boulder face with this view of saddleback junior and friends.

It felt good to be in the sun minus my sad ears. They are both feeling inflamed again. I put sunscreen on earlier in the morning, but it might be too late. They itch and burn like crazy. But my lunch spot was perfect, and I felt good about packing out a large bag of kettle chips. I don’t know where they’re going to go when I hang my food bag later, but I’m happy to have something salty to eat.

Tater and Norseman arrived as I posted pictures to social media and considered getting moving again. Tater is still having a lot of aches and pains. She gingerly lowered herself down to the rock and began stretching and spraying biofreeze on her knees and ankles. Norseman filtered water and we commiserated with each other about the rock faces and how they aggravate various parts of our lower legs. I’ve been doing ankle circles in the morning and evenings, which has helped with hiker hobble for sure, but the angles of the terrain are still having an impact.

I decided to keep moving rather than wait for them. Again because I felt kind of like a third wheel. They’ve been hiking together for quite awhile now. Anyway, I made my way down the steep descent from the horn and walked the wooded ridge to saddleback junior.

The climb up to the summit of saddleback junior was similarly full of boulder slabs, but it was much shorter than the other two climbs.

The summit sign had a skull resting on it for whatever reason, which made me imagine saddleback junior as the rebellious little brother of saddleback. Excuse me while I spend too much time alone and anthropomorphize the mountains.

I walked past the sign and took another short break in the sun just low enough from the summit to be out of the wind. I happened to notice a squashed blueberry on the path, which made me realize I was surrounded by blueberry bushes. There weren’t many ripe ones here, versus bemis, which was littered with edible blueberries, but I managed to collect a handful.

As I sat, I lamented my water situation. I had mistakenly blown past the tentsite where I should have gotten more water. Now I had a little over another mile to go before I would get to the next shelter and the accompanying water source. I could tell I was dehydrated by my continued low energy, and I was starting to get a headache. As I groused to myself, I heard male hikers laughing on the summit. I wasn’t in the mood to engage (I promise, sometimes I actually AM in the mood to talk to people), so I cut my break short and continued down the mountain.

The descent became steep almost immediately. I carefully picked my way down the jumble of boulders. As I placed my right foot on the slanted surface of a rock, my foot lost its purchase and I went tumbling onto my right elbow/forearm and right butt cheek. I landed hard enough to make me shaky, and the pain in my butt was sharp enough to make me nauseated. Normally when I fall, I pause for a second and immediately resume hiking. This time, I took my pack off and leaned against the offending boulder to collect myself. My right arm felt a little strange, which made me paranoid that I’d broken something. I gave it a minute and moved it around to test for pain. Nothing hurt, so I concluded that I’d just knocked the crap out of myself. A red welt had already formed on my rear, so I’m sure that will turn into a substantial bruise. I also worried about my tailbone because of how hard I fell. There was a shot of referred pain from my glute to my tailbone as I resumed walking, but it was short lived. There’s a saying among NOBOs “no pain, no Maine.” I think that applies on a micro level to just the state of Maine. I’ve fallen at least once every day, and the one day I didn’t fall, I got stung by bee, which hasn’t happened to me in literally 25 years. I think Maine is trying to kill me.

The fall made me shaky and paranoid about falling again for most of the descent. I managed to stay upright, but lost my footing a few more times. The trail finally eased into a flatter, more gradual descent until I reached the shelter. A gaggle of French teenagers sat around talking while I wordlessly put my bag down and filtered water from the stream 10 yards in front of the shelter. I made sure to drink a lot and filtered more so that I could try to catch up with my dehydration. I had intended to eat another snack at the shelter, but I had no desire to be around that many pairs of eyes, so I walked up the trail a few hundred yards, found a good rock to sit on and took my break there. Then I made my way up a gradual ascent to poplar ridge, which was a mediocre viewpoint for the surrounding mountains.

From there, the afternoon became somewhat of a blur. The trip down from poplar ridge was steep at times with the ever present slab walking and rock walls that had to be navigated. The trail eventually changed over to roots and rock piles. There has definitely been a lot of trail work done in this section because there were new stepping stones in a lot of the flat sections:

I took a final break near a small viewpoint and then pushed onward for the last drop into orbeton stream. The stream is apparently a tricky rockhop at best, which I hadn’t been aware of until tater mentioned it on one of our breaks today.

When I got to the edge of the water, I surveyed the potential paths I could take. My strategy seemed promising, but the fourth rock that I stepped on wobbled in such a way that both of my feet slipped right over the sides and into the shin deep water. My left shin grazed the rock on the way down, giving me yet another bruise for the day. I stood there in disbelief and then, rather than bother with rocks, I simply walked through the water to the other side of the stream. I stood on the bank with water pouring out of my shoes and said “thanks, Maine” in a sarcastic voice. Then I said, with forced amusement, “I just washed my shoes” trying to use moss’s perspective from his fording in VT.

I rounded the corner for the last .1 mile to the stealth spot I had picked out for the night and came face to face with an absurdly steep rocky climb. I stood there gaping at the climb and laughed while I said “you’ve got to fucking kidding me.” I couldn’t believe it. But I had to go up it, so I stumbled and heaved my way up the hill and onto a logging road.

I crossed the stream, which had an unexpectedly good view of the mountain I’d just come down and found the stealth spot listed in guthook. I went to work setting up camp while attempting to send a few texts with my frenetic and anemic signal. I finally had to give up on texting because it took over 5 minutes for them to send and the process was murdering my phone battery. I threw a bear line and put my pack in my tent to deal with setting up my bed later. Tater and Norseman showed up right as I sat down to boil water for dinner. They set up camp while I tried my best not to eat all of my snacks at once.

We all sat at the stream together and went about our dinner routines. Norseman slow cooked beans and rice and didn’t start eating until after tater and I were long done. Tater ate a buttload of mashed potatoes (no surprise there) and laughed at herself for once again getting them on her person, which is how she earned her trail name. I ate one of my favorite Mary Jane meals (bare burrito) and continued feeling snacky. I don’t know if I needed to eat more or if it’s just hormones or thirst, but I felt like I could have eaten a second dinner. As we sat by the water, a trio of young, crusty southbounders arrived with two very cute dogs, one of whom came over to me and leaned against me as I pet it. They didn’t stick around, which was fine with me, but I wanted to steal their dogs.
I left Norseman and tater by the water to take care of the annoying period task of emptying/washing my cup. That monthly scourge began yesterday, which was convenient timing for the hostel, but it means a few days of hassle for now. I walked down the logging road a stretch and ducked off into the woods out of sight. When I returned, I managed to get my cinderblock of food in the air.

Then I retired retired to my tent to settle in for the night. My butt cheek is markedly sore and tingles when I lay on it, and my arm is achy, but it could have been much worse. I’m finishing this to the sound of the brook cascading down the hillside and the very occasional squeak from Tater’s sleeping pad. I’m happy to not be camped here alone even if the company did set off my social anxiety a bit.

Mile 1969.4 to mile 1982.9 (13.5)

Total miles: 979.7

Creature feature: the occasional red squirrel, a new little bird that reminds me of a warbler but with a more bulbous midsection, and a single garter snake

Days 85-99: musical interlude edition 

I’ve decided to keep my personal life more personal, so I will just share a few pictures from my time off the trail. There were drastic ups and downs with ripple effects that I’m still feeling. I’m incredibly grateful for all the wonderful humans I had a chance to see and for the trip back into the land of music. I miss my banjo daily, so it felt good to be immersed in learning. It’s highly likely that I will need to buy a mandolin when I return to muggle world because the class I took had me practicing in nearly every spare moment at camp. Stay tuned for hiking posts. For now, I leave you with pictures: 

An incredible NYC sunset:

A foggy morning quasi-run on Warren Wilson land: 

Crazy evening light amongst singing and dancing: 

A few of my favorite people at an afternoon gay old time jam: 

Post camp waterfall hike with friends and a satisfying light glitch: 

Post camp silliness with new and old friends and an amazing view: 

Yet another bittersweet goodbye with this face: 

Day 77: eggcellent trail magic edition 

Woke up around 515 and went back to sleep for about 40 min. I felt so sore from yesterday and my knees felt stiff. I eventually got up because I was too hungry, and I wanted to leave an abundance of of time to be slow over the kinsmans. I hobbled from my tent up an annoying hill to the privy. Then I sat by the bear box and ate breakfast. Cosmo was there, which I didn’t expect, and a little while later, floater emerged from the shelter. I assumed she and the guys had kept going because the snoring person behind my tent turned out to be a rangy fellow I’d never met. Floater and I remarked on the efforts of yesterday, and I tried to work out some of the stiffness in my angry right knee. 
After breakfast, I put on my sweaty clothes from yesterday and deconstructed my tent. I couldn’t imagine how I was going to muster the energy to climb another mountain as I stuffed things into their designated places in my pack. I went back to the eating area to find that guy and mantis awake and talking about how their bodies managed yesterday. They’re all planning to make a town stop, which will likely result in the lure of staying in a hostel for the night, so this will likely be the last I see of them for who knows how long. I hung out a bit. Then Walden and I went down to the stream to get water. She was equally tired from our nearly 17 mile haul. The stream met up with the trail slightly north of the shelter turn off, so after filtering, we both crossed the stream rather than go back towards the shelter to get on trail at the exact point from which we departed. Little omissions like that are fine with me. I’m pretty sure I will still be a thru hiker if I miss a few yards here and there. 
The trail followed Eliza brook for awhile. I felt anxious about the “tricky rock hop” that my app forecasted, so I peered around every corner waiting for the crossing. When it finally came, it was your run of the mill effort. Maybe it’s harder when the water is higher? I don’t know why I get so worked up about these things. It doesn’t help me get through the scary thing any more than worrying ever helps. 

Eventually the trail began to climb South Kinsman. Walden and I ended up hiking together nearly all day again. We crossed through a boggy area with interesting cliffs in the distance. Then more climbing that became incredibly steep. Here are a few shots heading up the mountain. In the first one you can just make out a teeny tiny Walden sitting at the top of the frame. 

The rocks wound up and around every corner with no apparent end in sight. Around 1030 I stopped to take a break and eat a snack in the middle of the “trail.” Walden continued on but we met each other again not that long after my break because she sat on the rocks waiting for me to come around the bend so she could take my picture. I did my best not to look behind me for most of the climb because it made wobbly to see steepness of the grade from above. Best to just look one step ahead. 
We eventually came to area near treeline that gave us incredible views of the surrounding mountains. Here’s Walden on a couple of the exposed boulders we had to climb. 

The view from the peak was similar to what we’d seen for the last 20 minutes (today’s top pic), so we didn’t stick around for long. On to north kinsman we went, which was a mercifully easier climb than south kinsman. I dropped my pack at the intersection for the short side trail to the view because I didn’t feel like taking it down the short climb. A family of 4 and their dog sat at the edge of the boulder facing Franconia ridge. 

Walden and I sat down beside them and took in the expansive view. I ate the fruit leather I’d grabbed from my bag and asked the mother of the family about the ridge and tomorrow’s weather. They’re out working on the 48 peaks over 4K in NH. I think north kinsman made number 21 for them. Walden took their picture with a sign naming the mountain. Then the mother offered us hard boiled eggs, which I accepted with glee because it’s one of my favorite hiking snacks and I happened to have a babybel cheese left to accompany it.

 I ate my trail magic and basked in the sunshine feeling excited for the ridge and apprehensive about the predicted chance of thunderstorms for tomorrow. I started formulating a plan to take a zero at liberty springs campsite as a backup option to racing bad weather. After about twenty minutes of lounging, I forced myself to get back to walking. I dreaded the long descent from north kinsman. The family said the trail wasn’t sheer boulders and that there were steps cut into the rocks. Of course, we came to open faced rocks with no apparent steps almost immediately. I made a sarcastic remark about asking people from NH about terrain, but we did eventually come to a few places where there were steps and assistance for navigating the steeper sections. 

The egg snack buoyed my energy level for awhile as we picked our way down the mountain. My intention had been to eat lunch at the hut to stretch my lunch food another day. As time went by, I got hungrier and felt increasingly harried. I should have stopped and eaten, but I stubbornly stuck to my plan. This resulted in being nearly inconsolable by the time I got to lonesome lake hut around 2pm. 
I dropped my pack at the foot of the stairs, grabbed my wallet, phone, and water bottle and rushed inside. The huts cook a different soup everyday for hikers to buy for $2 a bowl during the daytime hours. I asked for the day’s offering of split pea soup. Walden and cosmo arrived a few minutes later. I kept my head in my bowl and ate with a singular goal: return to human form before biting someone’s head off. Walden began deliberating about where to stay the night. She needed to get to town in order to buy food, but she had missed the shuttle for a nearby hostel. I didn’t have the patience to weigh in on her ambivalence. I felt dedicated to my plan to continue on to liberty springs, so I spent my time bouncing the idea off of some of the hut staff. With nearly 6 more miles to go and the hour approaching 3p, I left Walden to make her decision and continued on alone. Ominous clouds hovered over the nearby mountains, which made me feel even more intent on leaving as soon as possible. 

I left the hut feeling torn about not sticking with Walden. I didn’t feel like spending the money to stay in town, and I wanted to get more miles out of the way with decent weather, both of which conflicted with her options. I felt okay being alone, but disappointed to not know when we might meet again. 

The trail led me down to lonesome lake, which is surrounded by incredible mountain views. A lone woman swam in the middle of the lake as others sat by the dock gawking at a family of ducks. I followed the boardwalk around the edge of the lake and took a right towards liberty springs. I felt anxious about the unknown climb ahead of me (will it be boulders that slow me down to a crawl? will I get to camp at 8p??) and the potential for rain, so I walked as fast as I could. The trail followed alongside cascade brook with one major crossing of it that required a rock hop. A woman sitting at the brook shrugged and said it would be fine when I commented on the dark clouds overhead. I said, “you must be from NH!” She laughed and said that she was indeed. After the brook, the trail evened out to easy footing and fast walking on a gradual downhill to the interstate. I got a little confused at the road, but finally figured out that the trail goes under the overpass and continues straight. At first I thought I was somehow supposed to cross back over cascade brook which was rather wide at that point. Glad I was wrong about that. 

The trip up from the road consisted of an actual trail for the first mile and a half. I felt so relieved to not be inching up and over boulders. I continued to walk as quickly as I could, making decent time and sweating bullets in the humidity. I took one short break to eat a snack and rest my feet. The trail steepened and became rockier about a mile south of the campsite. I sighed to myself and just kept inching my way up the mountain. 

I made it to the campsite about an hour faster than the info sheet at lonesome lake predicted. Liberty springs is one of the AMC run campsites that has an onsite caretaker and costs $5-10 depending on several factors. The site straddles the trail, with tent platforms to the left and the spring and cooking area/bearboxes to the right. The caretaker for liberty springs turned out to be incredibly helpful and approachable. When she showed me to my wooden tent platform, I asked for advice on effective knots to tie off my guylines since I don’t have a freestanding tent. As she went through a few useful knots, she professed her perfectionism, and I professed my ineptitude, which resulted into her basically setting up my tent for me. I have good spatial reasoning in a lot of contexts, but when it comes to knots, my brain goes haywire. They just don’t compute. I felt sheepish asking for so much help, but I also didn’t want to have my tent collapse on me in the middle of the night, especially a night that may involve rain. As we (she) set up my tent, we talked a bit about her experience as a wilderness therapist. She laughed and seemed excited when I told her I am a therapist. 

The caretaker left to continue overseeing arriving campers,and I grabbed my food to eat dinner in the cooking area. Because of pesky and aggressive bears, campers are required to only cook by the bear boxes. I felt unenthused by the forced socialization, but followed the rules and muddled through dinner conversation with a couple of SOBOs while two different youth groups milled about making a ton of noise as they went through their dinner routine. One of the SOBOs seemed quiet and intriguing. The other one was boisterous and way too energetic for my desired output at the moment. Of course the quiet retreated as soon as he finished eating, leaving me to be the primary receptor of the outsized personality of the other SOBO. Another hiker out for a several-day loop offered me trail mix in the hopes of lightening his pack. I happily agreed to take some to assist in my goal of not resupplying the entire way through the whites. 

The caretaker mentioned at my setup that walking up to mount liberty for sunset was a popular option for people who stay at the site. I considered doing it, but I felt exhausted by the time dinner was over and couldn’t fathom walking 1.1 miles roundtrip on top of what I’d already done for the day. I regretted my decision as the evening light went from orange to the blazing pink of an insane sunset. At that point it was too late to head up, so I cursed myself and gawked through the trees while I filled my water back at the spring. I heard my name, and turned to see that guy frantically searching for the caretaker. He, mantis and floater had just arrived after a frantic hike up from the road. I assumed they would get caught in the vortex of town food and a hostel, but they got a late afternoon hitch back to the trail after their town stop and rushed up the mountain to camp at liberty springs. Floater seemed exhausted and out of sorts, hurrying through her tent set up because she was so tired and hungry. I can relate. We talked while she set up, and I took a dozen terrible pictures of the incredible sunset through the trees. I could make out the Kinsmans in the distance, which felt crazy because I had been standing on those mountains just a few hours before. 

As I settled into my tent, I heard the caretaker giving a demo of how the privy composting system works to the older of the two kids groups. The boys made fake puking noises and were thoroughly disgusted by the system, which of course meant it was their favorite part of staying at the camp according to what the caretaker told me the next day. I’m finishing this to sound of kids goofing off and getting shushed every 5 minutes and the woman next to me shifting around so much that my tent is moving. We have 2 tents crammed onto 1 platform. I don’t know what to expect with the weather tomorrow. I have my mind set on a zero to give my knees a rest and wait for better conditions across the exposed ridge, but if it doesn’t rain, do I keep going? Or do I zero anyway? Oh, in yesterday’s post, I forgot to mention the coincidence of hiking Mt Moosilauke on the same day as seeing a moose. Pretty amoosing, wouldn’t you say? (Sorry, I had to) 

Mile 1807.9 to mile 1819.4 (11.5) 

Total miles: 816.2 

Creature feature: little red squirrels sneaking up to my tent platform trying to get a peek in my food bag 

Day 70: good company edition 

**just kidding. now that most of the hikers have left the hostel, the internet is serviceable for picture uploading. will see what kind of backlog I can get through and still do the chores I need to get done before I leave**

We slept in and made coffee using the chemex and beans that megan brought from home and my camp stove setup. Megan also brought me a baggie of her dry homemade oatmeal mixture that I heated on my stove and added a banana to. So good. We took our stuff down to the dining hall and had breakfast there while the parents of an ambiguously 7 year old kid negotiated not going to an expensive adventure park with her. 

The rest of the day involved a walk to thundering falls, a sunset canoe ride, and eating all the food. The walk to the falls was buggy and humid, but they did not disappoint. We sat by the water and talked until my back hurt from sitting. Then we walked up towards the top of the falls and stood mesmerized by the water until my stomach warned me that the bad place was coming soon. We scrambled back down the roots and pine needles and took a walk over part of the boardwalk that leads to the road on the other side of the falls. So many wildflowers. Megan also noticed this funny little guy that my fancy new app said was Indian cucumber root: 

After lunch we went to the outfitter nearby so I could get more bug spray. So toxic and so necessary for sanity. Then we lounged around and eventually got takeout dinner from a place called the Lookout with the worst logo ever (a busty woman looking through binoculars). But their burger was good, albeit a little painful. Then we took the lodge’s canoe for a spin around the lake. We confirmed that I am too controlling to not sit in the steering position of the canoe. No real surprise there. Megan was a good sport about my front seat driving and I tried my best to moderate myself with varying degrees of success. 

We paddled towards a little island where I though there might be loons based on the direction of the calls we heard earlier. As we edged around the island, we saw a couple of duck-looking creatures a short distance off to the right of the island. Their coloring wasn’t like any duck I’d ever seen, and a little internetting confirmed that they were actually loons! As we got closer, one of them kept looking frantically side to side. I saw a little brown blob near it that looked like a piece of driftwood. Then I realized it was a baby loon, hence the protective scanning from the parent. We decided not to get any closer to avoid stressing them out further even though it was doubly tempting for me because of the chick. 

As we turned the boat around, I noticed something flopping around by my feet. I thought it might be a leaf or a stick until I looked closer and realized it was a writhing snake. Just a little garter, but still: a snake. at my feet. I pulled my legs up and did a little freak out noise. The snake slithered back into the covered tip of the canoe. He continued to poke his head out periodically on the ride back to the lodge’s dock. I tried paddling with my feet up on the side of the canoe, but it hurt my butt too much, so I had to settle for stomping my foot whenever mr snake considered coming out. 

We caught a hint of pink in the sky as we pulled the canoe out of the water. Said goodbye to the snake and the pond and went back to our room where we went to sleep to the unsettling sound of fireworks (again). 

Miles: 0 that count and about 2 bonus miles to the falls and back 

Total miles: 725.8 

Creature feature: that persistent little snake, the loons, and day hikers gawking the falls. 

Day 69: visitor edition 

I slept horribly last night. Moss snores as if someone is choking him. I tossed and turned and woke up nearly every two hours until my alarm went off at 445. I managed to cut it off after about 4 revolutions of beeping. No one else seemed to notice it. I snuck a peak out the eastern window of the cabin and saw a band of pastel pink just below a ceiling of clouds. That was enough to get me moving. I grabbed my puffy coat, my zseat pad (purchased somewhere in northern PA and I’ve finally decided it is worth the 2 ounces), and my bathroom supplies for some post sunrise necessities. Slipping my feet into damp shoes has to be one of my least favorite feelings, second only to putting on cold, damp spandex. 

The view from the roof deck started out like this and slowly progressed to today’s top picture. I can’t believe no one else decided to get up for sunrise given the rare 360 degree view above treeline. But everybody has their priorities. Here’s a view of the cabin in the morning light:

 I had thoughts of going back to sleep once I got back inside, but it wasn’t meant to be. I stared at the ceiling and daydreamed about owning this little place. Ketchup started to pack his things in the sleeping loft. That was my cue to eat breakfast, which I did half laying in my sleeping bag with a very focused disco staring at my peanut butter covered probar. Of course I gave him a bite because I am weaaaak. 

My goal for today is the pomfret road crossing, which is only 11 miles away. No need to rush out of the cabin, so when I saw moss put his wet stuff on the porch in the sun, I followed suit. I took everything out of my bag and strapped it to the porch railing upside down. I also put my rank, sodden shoes out there with the insoles pulled out. Then I laid in my sleeping bag talking and zoning out until about 745. Halfway and I whined to each other about likely having to wade through puddles today. It was so hard to leave this little place, but it had to be done. I shimmied into my damp shorts under the cover of my sleeping bag and proceeded to repack my now completely dry bag. 

After one more trip to the roof, I was on trail by about 830. The walk was surprisingly not muddy. It started with a rocky descent to a wide, leafy lane with easy footing. That lasted for all of ten minutes until the AT took a right into the woods and became a squirrelly, narrower path. Wet dog smell emanated from somewhere on my person, and it’s not because I spent the night near a wet dog. if you ever run across a thru hiker who smells putrid, keep in mind it’s not necessarily because they’re lazy and don’t do their laundry. Moisture does terrible things to cloth. 

I made remarkably good time for me. Apparently I thrive on primarily little ups and downs because that’s what the trail was for the first 4 miles, which I covered in under 2 hours. Then it transitioned to a wide pine forest that had a lot of my favorite fern, which reminds me of a pinwheel. As I stopped to get water from a little rain fed stream, I found a brick of cheese laying on the ground in its wrapper. I didn’t want it and smiley, who passed me as I was stopped, didn’t want it. It seemed irresponsible to leave it there. I reluctantly packed it in my side pocket to throw out at the farm stand 2 miles away. I asked everyone I knew if they wanted it, but no one was desperate enough for unlabeled ground cheese. Can’t say I blame them. 

I came to the view of ascutney mountain and thought about the hike FP And I did there last summer (?) and how I can see that same mountain from the family room window of a friend’s childhood home. It’s so strange to see it from here after having walked this far. After the viewpoint, I went through a field with sweet smelling tall wildflowers that i now know are milkweed.

There was a gradual downhill from the viewpoint to route 12. I met a woman who lives in Woodstock walking her 3 dogs on the way down. This goober is the only one who came over to say hi. 

At route 12, I hung a left and made the sunny walk to On the edge farm stand, which sells homemade pies, local smoked meats, honey and all kinds of things I wanted but couldn’t carry. I bought a small mixed berry pie (maybe 5-6 inch diameter?) with a brown sugar crumble topping and proceeded to eat the whole thing sitting out at the picnic table. 

I wish I had grabbed a cold drink or a Gatorade because I was so thirsty halfway up the gigantic climb from route 12. On my way back to trail after lingering a bit too long in my pie coma, a man from the trailhead parking lot says “hey! Are northbound??” I called back that I was, and he said “come over here!” I should have waved him off after that kind of command, but I thought maybe he had trail magic. As it turned out, he wanted to mansplain to me all of my shelter options coming up in the next 20 miles even after I told him I wasn’t sleeping on trail that night. Then he told me he was a hiker who had hurt his knee. All I could think was that if he was a true thru hiker, he wouldn’t be asking me to stand here in the blazing sun on the side of the road to hear his BS. he would be opening the trunk of his car to offer me a soda and a seat in the shade. I left the conversation aggravated about the lost time and for letting myself get sucked into a pointless conversation out of politeness. 

After the horrible climb from the road, during which I got a stitch in my side probably because of the pie, the trail transitioned to an enjoyable down hill. It crossed a stream and then popped out into the field with buttery yellow flowers and a loud cricket. 

Halfway caught up with me in the field, but then fell behind again. I saw him at a stream while I was getting much needed water. I also dumped water on the back of my neck, which felt incredible after the sweaty climb. Halfway took a step down from the trail to the stream and launched forward about 15 feet, nearly going headfirst into the raised rocks by the stream. His toe apparently caught a root, which made him lose his balance and pitch forward. So frightening how close he came to the rock wall. I left him as he started to get water after being dazed and in pain for a couple of minutes. 

There were so many hills today. Short, steep ups with long downhills all over the place. I also saw what I believe is maple syrup tubing off to my left with about a mile to go. Eventually I came to the last twenty yards of my day, which looked like this: 

It’s a little hard to tell what’s happening, but basically this is a swollen creek with a steel cord stretched across the middle for this exact situation. Or so I assume. I stared at the water and felt thwarted. There was absolutely no way for me to rock hop across. I took off my shoes and slung them over my neck. I went to a section upstream from the cord thinking maybe I could ford it at a shallow point before the rocks. I took a couple of steps in the water and stuck my pole into the rushing middle. It went about two feet down. Negative. That’s above my knees. there’s no way I’m walking through water that deep and moving that fast. So I went back and stared at the cord. It’s there. It must be usable. I grabbed the cord and held my poles above the water because it was moving too quickly for them to be of any use. Then I walked across the rocks in water up to my shins focusing on taking fully planted steps. It took all of 30 seconds to make it to the other side. Relieved, I dried off my shins with my socks and put my shoes back on. Then I walked up to the road and sat to wait for my steady. Her name is Megan, which I shall now use because it will be easier. 

As I waited, I ate a hard boiled egg with the pepperoni I bought at the farm stand. So salty and so good with egg. A father and daughter arrived to put sodas as trail magic in a bucket down by the creek. I snagged an orange one and was in hiker heaven on the side of the road. As I ate, I saw halfway approach the far side of the creek down below. I went down to see how he planned to cross. I told him my way, but he refused because he didn’t want to get his feet wet. Instead he wandered up and down the creek for 20 minutes looking for a rock hopping option. he finally found a way because he can take longer steps. So stubborn. 

I stood with halfway while he drank his soda. Megan arrived while halfway was still around so she got to meet him and flip phone who showed up shortly after she did. Halfway asked for a picture of the 3 of us (hikers). Then he and flip phone went on their way. I showed megan the crazy creek crossing, and as we went down to the water’s edge, disco and moss arrived. Disco bit at the water and then hesitated to cross it, but he swam towards me anyway. I was ready to catch him if needed, but he’s a pro and walked right to the rocks beside me. Megan held him so he wouldn’t head up trail and cross the semi busy road. From the opposite bank, Moss asked how I crossed. Without hesitating, he tromped through the water and said “I just washed my shoes” with a smile. So funny to see how different people deal with each situation. 

Before halfway left, I offered to take his trash with us back to the lodge, which is a different kind of trail magic. Anything to help lighten someone’s load. I was sad to see him go, having no clue when I would catch up with him. Then Megan and I went to the killington deli and brought food back to the lodge. It was hard for me to transition from the trail to vacation space and hard for her to transition from the end of an intense dance program to being far away after an exhausting drive. But we finally found a mutual space and settled into our pond view room. 
Mile 1718.1 to mile 1729.0 (11.1) 
Total miles 725.8
Creature feature: I honestly don’t remember because I’m finishing this 3 days after the fact. 

Day 68: flash flood edition 

I woke up at 530 this morning. Then again at 6 and again at 630 when I gave up and started packing my gear. I was basically ready to go by 7, but breakfast didn’t start until 8, so I laid back in bed and downloaded a bird app and a plant identifying app. Been meaning to do that for about 3 town stops now. Let the nerdiness continue. As I lay in bed, I heard the trill of loons calling from the pond. Such a chortle of a sound. Then I heard halfway from his room say “loons!” He texted me around 730 to say breakfast was open early. I ate my granola breakfast and deli banana with the yogurt from the kitchen. Strawberry. Bleh. But it did the trick. I packed out an English muffin and a hard boiled egg for later in the day. 
I was back on trail around 815. The air was thick with moisture and mosquitoes, which kept biting me on my shoulders through my damn tshirt. The trail was soggy, but not passable, and I made good time to thundering falls. They definitely earned their name, as I could hear the crash of water from the road crossing a quarter mile away. After the falls came a neverending climb. Sweat dripped off my nose as I looked down at my phone texting with a music friend making plans for a little post-band camp extended social time. By the time I reached the top of the climb, I was drenched. I heard thunder in the distance and hoped it would roll on by. I came to the power lines and tripped on a rock, which sent a dog into a barking fit. Which dog? Disco! He ran towards me through the tall grass.

 I found moss hanging out on a good rock checking out his map. He whined about the climb, which I appreciated. We had a brief discussion about where we were headed for the day. I’m hoping to get to a place called the lookout, which is a privately owned unfurnished cabin that hikers are allowed to sleep in on Lookout Farm. The beauty of it is that there is a rooftop 360 degree view, which means: SUNRISE. 
The rain began as soon as I left moss and disco. It quickly went from a light drizzle to a downpour. My brain kept saying rush! Get under a roof! But there was no point in rushing because the nearest roof was about 3 miles away, and I was already soaked. About 30 minutes into the rain, I heard a noise behind me and turned around to find halfway and a woman named smiley on my ass. We were basically nose to nose when I looked behind me. This made me cranky, as did watching halfway nearly sprint down the trail. I plodded along, thinking to myself that I couldn’t possibly rush or else I would fall. What happened in that exact moment? I totally ate in on a muddy, flat rock and went down in a semi-controlled fall. I wrenched my left thumb and got a muddy right butt cheek, but no permanent damage done. Trail slapped again. 
I got to the closest shelter about an hour later. Moss, smiley and halfway sat at the edge of the platform looking bedraggled and a soggy disco lay in the back of the shelter. I unloaded my sopping pack, hung up my rain coat on a nail, and immediately stripped off my socks with thoughts of trench foot in my head. I plopped down next to halfway and made myself an open faced peanut butter frito honey English muffin. I have to say, it’s better in wrap form. I couldn’t handle disco’s begging face so I gave him a small bite of peanut butter muffin. I started to get cold and the rain had finally let up, so I left before everyone else. 
I expected halfway to catch me at any moment, but I didn’t see him again for many hours. Hours which were spent in rain that ranged from steady to torrential downpour accompanied by thunderstorms. The first hour after the shelter actually wasn’t bad. There was no hope of dry feet because of puddles, but it wasn’t actively raining. The trail wound around and did the usual rollercoaster of middle ground where we aren’t climbing mountains, but it’s not flat pasture land either. I kept seeing moose poop, simultaneously hoping to see a moose while being scared shitless that one would be standing in the trail ahead of me. My vigilant scanning ahead slowed down my pace, but still no halfway. 
Then came the rain. Again. And it didn’t stop until well after I reached my destination 5 miles down the trail. At some point in the middle of afternoon, I heard a large rustle and flapping noise about 4 feet to my left. A tan speckled bird about the size of a chicken went half running, half flying away from me making an awful mournful screeching noise. I heard what I think was the sound of baby birds and realized that I must have disturbed their nest with my noisy walking. I’m pretty sure the bird was some sort of grouse. It put up a huge fuss and I was worried it would fly at me, but I needed to get around it, so I kept walking. It finally flew off, screeching at me a little more for good measure. How do birds like that survive snakes? I hoped it would go back to its nest as soon as possible. 
During the height of one thunderstorm, I happened to be climbing towards the top of a ridge. As the tree cover thinned, the rain pelted me. By this point, I was walking in several inches of water and leaves. I couldn’t decide what to do. If the highest point of the ridge was exposed, it would be foolish to head there in a thunderstorm. But standing still would just make me colder (no chance of being wetter: I was soaked to the skin and hadn’t bothered to put on my raincoat because it couldn’t stand up to that kind of rain anyway). I huddled near the edge of a low pine tree, which afforded me a tiny break in rainfall, but not enough to warrant sticking around. I figured I would be better off to just keep moving. 

The slopes turned into rivers. Puddles grew to wading pools in the middle of the path. My feet sloshed around in my shoes, and I worried about the abilities of my theoretically waterproof bag.* I keep my sleeping bag, pad and clothes in a trash compactor bag to cover just such situations. I felt a buzzing in my hip pocket where I’d relocated my phone. Flash flood alert for the area until 630p. It just gets better! 
The rain let up a fraction as I made my way closer to the Lookout. I had about a mile to go when I heard more rumbling off in the distance. I picked up the pace as best I could, but at least one step out of 10 ended with my heel sliding three or four inches through leaf strewn mud. The rain intensified, and I gave up on rushing. 

The turn off for the shelter led me to a steep rocky drive, at the end of which stood the lookout cabin. I tried to take pictures of the inside, but it’s hard to make sense of the space. It’s a one room cabin with a sleeping loft, a theoretically working fireplace, and enough floor space to fit a dozen hikers. The owners of lookout farm allow us to sleep here, and I really hope it stays that way for a long time because the view is incredible. But I’m getting ahead of myself. 

I opened the door to find flip phone reading in his hammock and a guy named ketchup reading upstairs. They’d been here since noon. Ketchup actually beat most of the rain, but flip phone got soaked. His clothes hung on a bear line slash clothes line across the room. I picked a spot by a non leaking window and put my pack down. Then I stood on the porch and changed into dry clothes, hoping I would be able to hear someone coming and warn them to wait because I was basically half naked at any given moment. I wrung out my clothes and hung them on the line even though there’s little chance of them drying overnight. Then I set up my sleeping pad, laid my sleeping bag on it and proceeded to lay there like a zombie for a few minutes. 
A couple of hikers dropped their bags on the porch and climbed up to the viewing deck. Then they came inside and said something about testing out their new tent. We all balked at the idea and I said, “wait, are you from Vermont??” Thinking only someone who grew up in this environment would be willing to set up a tent right now. I was close: they’re from New Hampshire. They were good sports about the ribbing and did indeed set up their tent. Crazy fools. 
A soaked and ragged halfway appeared about 20 minutes later. He looked wrecked, and it took him awhile to settle in. Then came moss, disco, smiley, and eventually a woman they’re hiking with named picnic (who I had lunch with on top of bromley mountain). They decided to stay here instead of continuing on 2 miles to the an official shelter up the trail. 7 people and 2 clotheslines and it feels barely half full. 
The sun decided to peek out while we all made our dinners. I abandoned my food and went up to the deck to this view: 

During the second half of dinner, moss fried cured ham that he got from a friend and has been trying to figure out when to cook for nearly a month. He just kept sending it to himself farther up the trail.

 He shared pieces of it with all of us. I don’t normally eat or care about ham, but it was so salty and so good. Sorry pig, I won’t eat you again for a long time. A new thunderstorm rolled in while we ate. Lightning flashes brightened the windows for a second at a time. halfway and I looked at the sight and found ourselves in the middle of a red and yellow blob on the radar. A giant clap of thunder made us all exclaim like children witnessing their first storm. 
We all settled into our respective areas and I began to write. I happened to look out the window a few minutes later see that the sun had come back out, casting a bright glow on the fog rolling through the mountains. I couldn’t resist, so I put on my soggy shoes and climbed back up the ladder to watch the sky (top picture for today is the western view). The eastern view had periodic rainbows, which are sadly hard to see in the picture, and giant cloud mountains: 

Moss and his hiking buddies stood on the deck with flip phone and enjoyed a green nightcap. I stood on the roof wishing I could sit down and hoping the sun would stick around long enough to see it set. Sadly a wall of fog consumed the view, so I went back down to my sleeping bag. Standing still makes my legs stiffen more than I’ve ever experienced before. Moss came inside and began giving disco a mini leg massage that broke my heart with cuteness and made me miss my dog. 

Later on, he patted disco’s little dog bed, motioning for him to lay down and disco promptly laid in between moss’s legs on top of his sleeping bag. I’m finishing this to the waning light and the rustle of hikers shifting in their bags. I’m about to be one of those noisy shifters because these long johns are way too hot to sleep in. 
Mile 1704.8 to mile 1718.1 (13.3) 
Total miles: 715.1 
Creature feature: In the middle of one of the storms, heard a noise like a horse chuffing off to my left that freaked me out, but I never saw the source of it. Caught sight of a black and white warbler during one of the 2 hours that it wasn’t raining. that silly disco dog. And whatever kind of bird it was that I scared. Likely a grouse. 

*i did some searching on the zpacks website this morning. as it turns out, my pack is made from dyneema, which is highly water resistant, but not waterproof. I forgot that I chose it over cuben fiber (waterproof) because of the durability. Not the best choice for the soggy green tunnel. Oh well.